West Ashley girls ward off Fort Dorchester

West Ashley's Mary Shirley sends the ball sailing past Fort Dorchester goalkeeper Kaelen Harper for the Wildcats 2nd goal in a playoff game at WAHS on Monday May 6, 2013. West Ashley won 2-1. (Wade Spees/postandcourier.com)

Wade Spees

West Ashley girls soccer coach Drew McNeely acknowledged that his squad’s performance Monday night in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs was not as polished as he would have liked.

But the 2-1 victory over visiting Fort Dorchester was enough to bring the Wildcats one step closer to their goal of a return trip to the Lower State championship game.

In order to meet that objective, West Ashley (13-6) must navigate a difficult path that continues Wednesday night at top-seeded Lexington, which beat Ridge View, 12-0, in other opening-round action.

“Of course, you’re always happy with advancing,” McNeely said. “But in terms of the way we played … we had our chances, certainly, we just didn’t finish the ones we needed to. We’re only going to get a few chances, and you’ve got to put those away.”

Most of the Wildcats’ opportunities resulted from superior flank play.

Mary Shirley was especially active on the left side, and it took less than nine minutes for her efforts to pay off. The sophomore raced down the sideline, cut inside and fired a shot that Patriots freshman goalkeeper Kaelen Harper could not handle.

Caitlyn Reilly equalized seven minutes later on a 20-yard free kick, but Shirley reclaimed the lead for West Ashley five minutes before halftime with her second goal of the contest, lacing a rebound into the roof of the net.

“We didn’t come out as strong as we would have liked,” said first-year Fort Dorchester coach Taryn Floyd, who attributed the slow start to the players’ lack of confidence in themselves. “They get down on themselves real hard. I think that’s because they have been told for so long that the Fort Dorchester soccer program does not compare to other programs.”

With the help of Floyd, a Lowcountry native who was named the Lower State player of the year in 2003 as a senior at Summerville High, the Patriots made strides this season to overcome that perception. After losing three straight Region 8-AAAA games and five of six overall to open the campaign, Fort Dorchester rebounded to finish as the third seed and earn its first postseason berth since 2010. The Patriots finished the season with a 7-10 record.

West Ashley, the second seed from Region 7-AAAA, used its speed to create chances in the second half, but the lack of a finishing touch kept Fort Dorchester within striking distance. The Patriots’ push for an equalizer late in the game resulted in a few tense moments for the Wildcat faithful, but ultimately McNeely’s defensive corps was up to the challenge.

“I think we pushed the panic button late in the game,” McNeely said. “(Fort Dorchester) played with a lot of intensity and it was a good first-round match. They’re a much-improved program. (Floyd) has done a very good job with that team.”

Both squads were forced to overcome unfortunate injury situations. The Patriots lost five players to injuries throughout the course of the season, including their first- and second-string goalkeepers. As a result, Harper was thrust into the starting netminder role after spending the first half of the season on junior varsity.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats were without a pair of co-captains — junior Caroline Cashion, who is out with a torn ACL, and senior Hannah Miller, who suffered an injury on May 1 against Wando.

West Ashley beat Fort Dorchester, 3-1, on April 25 in the teams’ only regular season contest.

Goals: WA—Shirley 2. FD—Reilly 1. Records: West Ashley 13-6. Fort Dorchester 7-10. Next: West Ashley at Lexington Wednesday in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs.